Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Science of Disney Imagineering: Electricity

Woohoo!  Less than a month to go before we head down to Disney World and a new Science of Disney Imagineering DVD came in for us at the library.  This one covers electricity--a vary dangerous subject so there is a lot of safety warnings and instruction.  Well, you know the drill by now.

Asa's Invention:   Asa has attached a piano keyboard up to a tesla coil to participate in a futuristic band contest the imagineers are holding.  Joined by an electric guitar and a drummer, (wearing a mesh metal suit to become part of the circuit itself) they form the Tesla Trio.

Definitions:  This one is chock full--Electricity, insulators, conductors, voltage, current, 1 amp, circuit, load, resistance, series ciruit, parallel circuit, watt, direct current, alternating current, and static electricity.

Disney Rides & Attractions that exemplify the theme:

Say the world electricity and perhaps a light bulb goes on in your head.  You'd be hard-pressed to find more light bulbs in one place than the Spectromagic parade (okay, the Osborne Christmas lights display at Hollywood Studios comes to mind but the must not have been filming during the holiday season).  There are over 875,000 incandescant lights, 250,000 fiber optic points of light, and 1,096 batteries.  We learn the difference between a series and a parallel circuit and why you wouldn't want to use a series circuit on these floats (think about trying to find the one burnt out bulb on your Christmas tree).   Asa uses a water hose to demonsrate the flow of electricity and the concept of resistanceand voltage. 

We also learn about resistance and this takes us to an interesting science fact (which has nothing to do with Disney).  Everything has resistance, including your skin.  When you lie you tend to sweat which decreases the resistance.  Lie detectors can measure this descrease and tell when you're lying.  Asa gets caught as the thief of an ice cream sundae left in the imagineers' fridge.

When imagineers updated the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea  to the Finding  Nemo Subs they also retrofitted the submarines from deisel engines to cleaner electric engines.  The three-foot propellers depend on batteries to run.   The question is how to get electricity to the sub through water without charging the water (we all know water and electricity don't mix).   If you look down in the water you may be able to see the dark track the subs follow.  I hope I didn't ruin the magic for anyone, the captain isn't really steering the sub.  There is also an insulated coil down there with a flowing current of electricity.  Under the subs is configuration of magnets that saddles over that coil.  The electric current in the coil produces a magnetic field which in turn produces electricity inside the submarine.   This whole section brought back memories of high school physics and trying to remember the right hand rule of magnetism.

The next subject is static electricity and lightning.  Asa demonstrates the old rubbing-your-feet-on -the-carpet-and-shocking-your-friend gag.  Then he moves on to the more serious issue of the danger of lightning strikes.  The ships of the Disney Cruise Line have lightning rods in the masts.  If lightning strikes the ship it passes through the rod and the hull of the ship into the water and eventually the ground.

 Our last ride is Test Track.  Once again we're faced with the problem of how to provide power to the electric motors in the cars.  (It's not mentioned in the DVD, but I've heard this system is so complex that it's easier to just let it run 24/7 than try to start it up each morning).  There's no way you could fit a big enough battery in the vehicle to power it all the time.  Once again we're dependant on the track that guides the car.  There are copper bus bars that run along the entire track circuit carrying an electric current.  Collection shoes under the cars carry the current to the motors.    This means the entire ride  is a parallel circuit with each car taking the place of a Christmas light in the Spectromagic example.

Quiz:  15  true/false and multiple choice questions.

Try It Yourself:   Since we dealing with something dangerous, there is a safety lesson to start with:  always pull appliances from the outlet by the plug which is designed to withstand handling.  Pulling by the cord can weaken the insulation and allow the wires to touch creating a short circuit.  The experiment itself is based on the old potato clock idea.  We are going to try different foods and see if they will carry a current.  You need 9 volt batteries, wires with alligator clips, two forks your mother won't mind ruining, led lights and food items from your kitchen.  Another safety warning--the food is now part of a scientific experiment and you shouldn't try to eat it before or after the test.  The examples in the DVD are a pickle, a candybar, and a glob of mayonaise.  I won't give away the results, you'll have to Try It Yourself.

Monday, August 22, 2011

First week in review

I have to say how pleased I've been with the way we got back into the swing of things with school this week.  My greatest fear was Schnickelfritz balking at the amount of writing to be done--we've got composition, journaling for Land Animals of the Sixth Day, cursive practice, and a notebook of presidential facts for a Royal Rangers merit badge.  On Tuesday he did ask if his writing on the presidents counted as his writing for the day and I had to explain to him that reading and writing are part of a lot of subjects.  He seemed to accept that fact and moved on.

We  read the D'aulaire's book on Columbus to start our Missouri history (we couldn't have found Missouri until we found the new world).  I'm using another homeschool mom's curriculum, A Guide to Studying Missouri History Through Literature as well as a book I found a used book sale, Where Rivers Meet.   We are finishing up All About Spelling Level 2 and Math U See Delta before moving up to the next levels sometime this fall.   I'm also trying a few products from Critical Thinking Company this year--Building Thinking Skills and Reading Detective.

By far the best thing I did over the summer was put our schedule in the Edu-Track program.  I print out an entire week's schedule at once.  I can handwrite additional subject or draw arrows to tweak it and then update the final schedule at the end of the week.  Fritz enjoys seeing "how much is left to do" and I enjoy not wondering "okay, what comes next" or "what have I forgotten."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Battle of Wilson's Creek

Do you remember when we last saw Captain Lyon disguised  as a widow at the Camp Jackson affair?   Well, someone in the army must have thought he did a good job preventing secessionist forces from capturing the St. Louis Arsenal because he's been promoted to General.   On the other hand, several civilians including a baby were killed and that prompted the Missouri General Assembly to create a State Guard to protect Missouri from outside forces (either North or South)    Now three months later and clear on the other side of the state Lyon's troops are standing opposed to Missouri troops again.   Soldiers from Iowa and Kansas have joined with Lyon,  troops from Arkansas (an officially Confederate state) have joined with the Missouri Guard all near the city of Springfield.

We left the house early Saturday morning to make the trip down to the 150th anniversary reenactment, but it wasn't early enough.  When we first heard the rumble of cannon-fire for the morning's battle we were still in a miles-long line waiting to park.  This had been advertised as a national event so there were 2500 reenactors and many times that number of Civil War buffs (or perhaps other homeschoolers on a field trip).  Then we had to wait for a shuttle bus to take us to the battlefield.  We managed to arrive about five minutes before the reenactors were "resurrected."    There was still plenty to see and do and another battle was scheduled for the evening.

Okay, these guys obviously aren't reenactors.  They did have a popular display for little boys (daddies might have wanted to get behind the gun too, but I only saw kids in line).  It was a real test of strength to see if they could pull down the handle and pull it back to cock the gun.  Older and larger boys also tried on ALL the field gear and tried to run a lap around the hummer.  It wasn't even a scorcher that day but they could all see what a miserably hot and heavy load these soldiers bear to protect us.  Someone yelled "They could've used you boys in the fight this morning."  I don't know which side he wanted them to fight on.  The soldier quipped back "They didn't give us any bullets."  The first man pointed out that the reenactors didn't have real bullets either so it still would have been a fair fight.

Another not specifically Civil War attraction was an old fashioned baseball game.  The St. Louis Brown Stockings took on the Irish Brigade according to the 1860 rules of the game.  First we had to learn a whole new terminology:  strikers instead of batters, hands instead of outs, ace instead of run.  And there were plenty of other differences.  A player could be called out if the ball is caught on the first bounce (this may have something to do with the players not wearing gloves, I'm not sure I'd want to catch any of those line drives with my bare hands either).    There was an occasional horse trotting through the outfield and once the game had to be halted while   everyone searched for the ball in the tall grass around first base(see the picture) .  I doubt any of those millionaires in the professional leagues would have put up with the conditions, but we thought is was fun to watch.  Schnickelfritz even helped hang the numbers on the portable scoreboard.

The reenactment did not take place on the actual battlefield which is now part of the national parks system.  We decided to head over to the real site during the heat of the day (the visitor's center had air conditioning).  We watched a 30 minute movie about the historical significance of the battle and Fritz was enthralled with the miniture map that lit up to show troop movements.  Then we got in our car for a 5 mile tour around the battlefield.  There is corn growing in the same location soldiers fought.  There is still an old cabin where children hid in the root cellar to protect themselves from flying bullets.  I think the map and driving tour helped us better understand the battle we were about to see.

Speaking of battle, it was time to get back and reserve our seats.  As you can see we were VERY close to the cannons.  Fritz wore his daddy's chainsaw hearing protection.  I had a pair of Indy 500 earplugs.  The sound was reduced but we still felt  the full force of the concussion (it made my straw hat wiggle).   These men represented the Missouri Guard and you can see one of them is just wearing his farm clothes and carrying a scythe.  It didn't matter that they didn't have guns, there would soon be plenty of guns available after the battle.  The lack of standard uniforms this early in the war also played an important role in the battle.  Col. Sigel of the Union forces mistook the approaching troops from Louisiana (which would be the enemy) for reinforcements from Iowa (his allies) because they both wore gray.  This allowed the Louisiana troops to get within 40 yards of Col. Sigel before the first shot was fired and by then the Union troops panicked and scattered.

For the first half hour of the battle everyone seemed to be cheating--that is to say no one fell dead or wounded.  I suppose they didn't want to miss out on all the fun.  Later you could see bodies in the field.  Now that I'm looking at close ups of my photos I still see a lot of cheating/peaking going on.  Occasionally someone would want his moment in the sun and would come to where the crowd was sitting for his death scene.

Unfortunately, the evening ended on a sour note for us.  Unlike the morning battle and contrary to the instructions we had during our wait for the battle to begin, the bridge over Wilson's creek was closed and guarded by police officers.   We were captives on the field until the battle was over.   One lady with a migraine and many small children overwhelmed by the noise and smoke could not escape.  And it wasn't much later that we realized we were on one side of the creek and all the port-o-johns were on the other.  Children were having to try and hold it or go in the woods (scarier than you might think with cannons and rifles shooting around you, even if they were blanks).  I hope future event planners will take this fact into consideration.

Well, I suppose things could have been worse.  Remember Gen. Lyon from the beginning of this post?  He died in the battle and became the first Union General of the Civil War to do so.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cahokia Mounds

As I've mentioned before, we eat pizza at least once a week.   Our latest pepperoni pie featured a large yeast bubble that had been baked into it.  Schnickelfritz usually insists on eating the bubbled slice and refers to it as Mount Everest.  This time he dubbed it with a new title: Monk's Mound.  That's when I knew that our latest field trip had really captured his imagination.  We are starting our study of Missouri history long before the arrival of European explorers.  The Mississippian culture actually lived on both sides of the mighty river, but we travelled to Illinois to see the remains of their great city: Cahokia.

I have to confess that I've never visited Cahokia Mounds even though I grew up within an hour's drive of the site.  I always thought it was just the place that the kooky people converged on for the summer solstice.  Our trip to visit Grandma and Grandpa in Indiana  coincided with the Mound's Archeology Day so we made a slight detour off the interstate.  I must say I was pleasantly surprised at what we found.

The visitor's center/museum greeted us with this artist's depiction of what the city  would have looked like during its heyday.  Cohokia is situated in the Mississippi River Bottoms, a flood plain that would receive annual silt deposits.  The rich earth yielded abundant crops--enough to feed a population of 20,000, enough to store some for years of poor crops, and enough left to trade for other goods.  Traders would come to Cahokia from as far away as the Great Lakes, the Atlantic coast, and the Gulf of Mexico.    The Chief of Cahokia (who probably lived on the top of Monk's Mound) had wealth beyond measure.   All this was explained in a 17 minute movie, at the end of which the screen was lifted and we were invited to walk through a life-size exhibit of family life in Cahokia.

The museum had plenty of interactive exhibits: trails would light on maps, drawers could be opened to display artifacts.  Schnickelfritz seemed drawn to a diorama showing the changes in activities through the seasons.

Because this was Archeology Day, there were special outdoor exhibits and activities for the kids.  One station had shells and rocks for the kids to chip away at to form jewelry and perhaps tools or arrowheads.  Other stations held artifacts found in the Illinois/Missouri region.

The boys seemed to congregate at the hunting skills exhiibit--Atlatl spearthowing.  Instead of gripping a spear by the shaft, it is held in a launching device.  The arm makes a motion like passing a football but at the end of the motion there is a flick of the wrist which really launches the spear.  I can see how this device adds to the distance of the throw.  It would take a lot of practice to overcome the wobbling of the spear and develop accuracy.  I'd say a lot of little warriors would have gone home hungry today.

Schnickelfritz made sure of his dinner though--while collecting his launched spears he managed to jab the cut out target shaped like a turkey.

Cahokia is still an active archaeological site, the largest north of Mexico.  We could see two dig sites from atop Monk's Mound.  In the shade of the Visitor's center we had the opportunity to get a little taste of the archeologist's work.  A volunteer would pour a small sample of findings into a sieve.  We would shake the sieve in a tub of water to remove some of the dirt.  Then we could remove individual items for a more thorough cleaning with toothbrushes and sponges.  Then the items were sorted in a box: bones, pottery, rocks, etc.  Fritz seemed most interested in cleaning bones.  We found the patella from a deer, a piece of spine, and a leg bone.

The bag that held the items had a detailed label describing exactly where they had been collected.

This meticulous grid system was explained very well in an archeology exhibit in the Visitor's Center.

If we didn't still have a 4 hour drive ahead of us, we could have taken a guided tour of the site.  In addition to the various mounds there is evidence of an astronomical calendar structure like Stonehenge but made of timbers.  When staff aren't available you can rent an Ipod with a recorded tour.  Our visit wouldn't be complete though until we journeyed to the top of Monk's Mound.  Fritz  wanted the sense of accomplishment, I wanted him to use up as much energy as possible before he was confined to the car.

The last thing I wanted to see after climbing around 50 steps was another set of stairs--nearly twice as many and at a much steeper incline.  At least there was a bench to rest if necessesary.  Fritz and I both agreed the view at the top was worth it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Disney on the Cheap

Even as I wrote that title it seemed like an oxymoron.   A one-day ticket with the park hopper option costs more than a barrel of oil (and you know everyone thinks that's too high).  We've saved up, made reservations, and booked our flights and now I'm going to share some of the little ways we've saved.

First--get a Disney Visa and start accumulating points.  We've had ours for five years now and use it for all our purchases and reoccurring bills (phones, insurance, cable, etc) .   They are all things we'd have to buy anyway.  Now we just write one monthly check to Chase Visa instead of multiple checks to all the utilities.  Because we  pay off the credit card balance every month we accumulate points for FREE.  If you're not in a situation to pay your bill in full each month or you aren't in control of your credit card use this is probably not the option for you.  You'll be paying for these points through the interest you're charged (and if you don't pay the minimum balance due you can't accumulate points at all).   Bottom Line: we're getting our 6 night stay at Port Orleans FREE and there's still plenty of points left to cover our food and souvenirs in the parks.   (There are a few other perks to the Disney Visa like a special character greet and access to resort discounts before the general public).

Second--You know how they say the value of an automobile drops the second you drive it off the lot?  Well that's doubly true for park souvenirs.  I've been hitting the garage sales and thrift stores for items we may have purchased in the parks.  Like the Duggars say "Buy used and save the difference."  

The scrapbook was $5 at a consignment store.  The stickers that should have been included were gone, but I can buy a LOT of stickers with the $30+ I saved by not buying it at the resort gift shop.    I think Schnickelfritz has outgrown the Mouse Ears we bought him on the last trip (maturity-wise, not size wise).  Will pack them just in case I'm wrong.  In the meantime I found him this nice denim ball cap for 50 cent at a garage sale.  I had to doctor Mickey's eyes with a Sharpie marker. 

I've also been able to get a lot of Disney themed shirts--Cars are the easiest to find right now but I didn't manage to snag a Phineas and Ferb.  Again, why pay full price at the park when you can get them for less than a dollar at a garage sale.  I would much rather get cheap souvinirs and save our money for memorable experiences like a back stage tour of the Magic Kingdom's Train shed.

Here's an item from our last trip to Disney World.  The toy store in Downtown Disney has a themed Mr. Potatohead.  For a set price you can fill a box with Mouse ears, Goofy hats, and other items for a Potatohead doll.  Now most people will buy to potato body and try to fill it with parts to get more in the box.  I found a body (and generic arms, eyes, and feet) at a garage sale so I could fill my box with exclusive Disney items.

One of the big things to do at the park is Pin Trading.  Each pin cost $5 or more at the park.  I'm looking into buying a lot of pins on ebay.  It won't matter what they are because we can trade them for pins we like with cast members at the parks.  BUYER BEWARE:  I have read that a lot of sellers on ebay are in fact selling knock-offs that you may not be able to trade so do some homework.

Coming Next: Cheap Dining
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